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Primary Results: Democratic Women Prevail In Pennsylvania Contests


Voters in Pennsylvania, Nebraska, Idaho and Oregon cast ballots in primary elections on Tuesday.

Voters in Pennsylvania, Nebraska, Idaho and Oregon cast ballots in primary elections on Tuesday.

Benjamin Harte, Getty Images/Ikon Images

Democratic women again finished strong in primaries on Tuesday night, with Pennsylvania poised to send as many as four Democratic women to Congress next year to break up the state’s all-male congressional delegation.

There are more than a half-dozen competitive congressional seats on the table in Pennsylvania, one of four states that voted on Tuesday. Pennsylvania is a critical part of the Democrats’ calculus for getting the 23 seats they need to win back control of the House, but the party will still have to move past some messy ideological fights following the primary.

Democratic Party leaders have seen the candidates they think are strongest win out in earlier primary states like Illinois, North Carolina and Ohio. Pennsylvania was their next major test after a court-ordered congressional redistricting gave the Democrats much more favorable positioning in the state.

But things may not go their way in Nebraska, where the more progressive candidate is ahead of a former Democratic congressman by only 163 votes. If that result stands, a district President Trump narrowly won could fall off Democrats’ wish list.

Idaho and Oregon also voted Tuesday. The Idaho GOP gubernatorial primary was another nasty fight, with the Republican candidates trying to establish their outsider credentials.

Pennsylvania: Women top Democratic primary contests

At least one of the women Pennsylvania might send to Congress could be in the top-targeted 7th Congressional District, where former Allentown solicitor Susan Wild won the Democratic primary. This district morphed from one Trump carried by 8 points to an area that Clinton won by 1 point, and GOP Rep. Charlie Dent has resigned, leaving the Lehigh Valley seat vacant.

The messy Democratic primary showcased the competing factions the party had to overcome as it tries to flip such districts. Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli attracted attention as the most conservative Democrat on the ballot. An immigration hard-liner who opposes abortion in most cases, CNN reported Morganelli had deleted tweets slamming progressive groups and praising President Trump. EMILY’s List, who backed Wild, and billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer’s NextGen America, both went on the attack against Morganelli. Rev. Greg Edwards had the backing of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and claimed the progressive mantle, but finished in third place.

After a tough primary, Wild will still have to work to get the party fully behind her to face the GOP nominee. The GOP race between Lehigh County Commission Chair Marty Nothstein, a former Olympic gold medalist in cycling, and former Lehigh County Commissioner Dean Browning is too close to call.

In the 1st District, it’s wealthy philanthropist Scott Wallace who will face off against GOP Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick. After redistricting, this district shifted from territory that President Trump narrowly carried to an area that Hillary Clinton won by 2 points, giving Democrats a prime pickup opportunity.

Wallace spent heavily to win the contest, putting $2.5 million into his campaign to beat Navy veteran Rachel Reddick in the primary. Some Democrats may see his ability to self-fund as a good thing, but as Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman pointed out, “Wallace’s elite pedigree could backfire with regular voters in November.”

Wallace hasn’t lived full time in the Bucks County-based district in decades, and he has more ties to suburban Washington, D.C., and South Africa as of late. Expect his wealth and time outside the area to be a prime GOP attack line in this blue-collar district, which could help Republicans defend it.

In a statement after Wallace’s win, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rep. Ben Ray Luján emphasized that Wallace was “born and bred in Bucks County… and as president of a global charity, Scott has spent his life making a difference in peoples’ lives.”

A former school board member named Mary Gay Scanlon won the crowded Democratic primary in the vacant 5th District, which includes the southern Philadelphia suburbs. Former GOP Rep. Pat Meehan — who resigned last month amid a sexual harassment scandal — would have had to run in solidly Democratic turf under the new lines. Scanlon has the backing of much of the state’s political establishment, and she’ll be heavily favored to win this November, too.

State Rep. Madeleine Dean will also be a frontrunner, competing in the open Pennsylvania 4th District, which Clinton carried by 20 points. Former Air Force officer Chrissy Houlahan is the Democratic nominee in the open 6th District, which Clinton won by 10 points.

Republican Rick Saccone — who lost a high-profile special election earlier this year in the old 18th District to Democrat Conor Lamb — lost again on Tuesday. He was defeated in the GOP primary for the new 15th District by state Sen. Guy Reschenthaler. Politico reported that former Rep. Tim Murphy — whose resignation last year amid a sex scandal prompted the March special election in the first place — worked to undermine Saccone’s campaign. Murphy has directed funds from his old campaign account to a group backing Reschenthaler, saying he would be the stronger general election candidate.

Rep. Lou Barletta also won the GOP Senate primary, but in a closer-than-expected win over state Rep. Jim Christiana. Even with Barletta’s victory, GOP hopes to take out Democratic Sen. Bob Casey have faded recently.

Nebraska:

Progressive nonprofit director Kara Eastman looks to have pulled off a nail-biter upset over former Democratic Rep. Brad Ashford in the Omaha-based 2nd District in Nebraska. With all precincts reporting, she leads by only 163 votes. According to state law, an automatic recount will occur since the final total is within one percentage point. The Associated Press has not called the race.

Ashford’s centrist reputation would put this seat in play, but Eastman has assailed Ashford for not being liberal enough, campaigning on a Medicare-for-all pledge and arguing she would push for tougher gun laws. Ashford once opposed banning assault weapons, but he has since changed his mind and has been endorsed by former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords’ gun control group, Americans for Responsible Solutions.

If Eastman does prevail in the primary, the race could be considered out of reach for Democrats in this district that Trump carried by just 2 percent in 2016. If Ashford wins, it would set up a rematch with GOP Rep. Don Bacon, who narrowly defeated Ashford in 2016 after the Democrat had served one term.

Idaho governor: Battle to be the most non-establishment

Outgoing Republican Gov. Butch Otter’s seat is almost ensured to stay in GOP hands in November. There are three top Republican candidates fighting to replace him: Rep. Raúl Labrador, one of the founders of the House Freedom Caucus, which has often clashed with leadership; Lt. Gov. Brad Little, the establishment favorite; and Tommy Ahlquist, a real estate developer and former physician who argues he is the outsider most like Trump.

Being far away from the Washington “swamp” and establishment has become an asset in this race, which could give Ahlquist — a self-funder who has topped the field in money — an advantage. All three have tried to assail the conservative credentials of their opponents, and in the close race, any of the trio could win the nomination. [Copyright 2018 NPR]

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